Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson weren’t the headliners on the Kansas City Chiefs' offense last season, but they were a significant part of its success. Watkins and Robinson were first and second in playing time among Chiefs wide receivers and together accounted for more than 20% of the team’s catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the regular season.
It looked unlikely when the offseason began that either player would be with the Chiefs for the 2020 season. Watkins was counting $21 million against the salary cap in the final season of his contract, and Robinson was headed for free agency for the first time.
But both players will indeed remain with the Chiefs, who have restructured Watkins' contract to cut his salary-cap cost and re-signed Robinson to a one-year deal.
That means the Chiefs will retain their top four wide receivers from last season, with Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman being the others, and their offense will return from their Super Bowl championship season mostly intact.
Counting tight end Travis Kelce and their running backs, the Chiefs can bring back their top five receivers from last season and nine of the top 10. Running back LeSean McCoy, who was sixth on the team with 28 catches, is a free agent and unlikely to return.
The Chiefs were sixth last season in offensive yards and fifth in scoring during the regular season. They then averaged 39 points per game in their two postseason contests plus their Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Chiefs haven’t brought back all four of their leading wide receivers from a previous season since 2016. Last year, they lost Chris Conley. In 2018, it was Albert Wilson. Jeremy Maclin was released before the 2017 season.
Coach Andy Reid said bringing back the core players is more important than ever this year. Having offseason practice looks unlikely and training camp and the start of the season could be affected as well.
“Absolutely," Reid said. “As many guys as you can keep you’d love to do that. ... Logic tells you that as many guys you can keep that are familiar with what you are doing on either side of the ball and special teams, likewise, you’d like to be able to do.’’
The challenge for the Chiefs will be in trying to find playing time for all of their receivers, particularly Hardman. He was productive as a rookie with 26 catches for 538 yards for an average of almost 21 yards per reception. He caught six touchdown passes.
That was as the fourth receiver and in a part-time role. Adding more snaps next season would give Hardman a chance for significant numbers, based off what he did with his 2019 playing time.
“Mecole really did a nice job for us -- got better every week, I felt,” Reid said. “We look at him as a starter. That’s how we look at it. We just had a lot of receivers, so we felt like in a three-receiver formation or personnel group we had, he would be considered as a starter for us.
“I feel very comfortable with him. I know he’s going to continue to grow. He’s a real smart kid.”
Watkins in two seasons with the Chiefs has 92 catches for 1,192 yards, or fewer yards than Kelce had last season alone. But he has played well in the biggest of games. He had more than 100 yards in each of the two AFC Championship Games and the game-clinching 60-yard touchdown in last season’s win over the Tennessee Titans. He had 98 yards in the Super Bowl, including a 38-yard catch in the fourth quarter that set up the Chiefs’ go-ahead touchdown.
Robinson was mostly the Chiefs’ third wide receiver last season. His biggest game came in Week 2 when Hill was out with an injury. He had six catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Raiders.